The Hill makes the most basic error a faith-based film can make - it prioritizes the message delivery over the story. And that's a shame because the true story being told is quite inspirational. The subject is Rickey Hill, a man who overcame incredible odds to play with the Montreal Expos baseball team. What he did is undeniably incredible. What the movie does with his life is maddening.
We first meet Rickey (played by Jesse Berry) as a young boy. He was born with a degenerative spinal disorder, leaving his legs in braces. Rickey is obsessed with baseball, spending his days hitting rocks with a stick because his preacher father James (Dennis Quaid) can't afford to buy him a ball and bat. The elder Hill doesn't want his son playing the sport anyway, believing it's not "God's plan" for him. Rickey perseveres, working up a powerful swing. One day, he takes his braces off, only to discover the increased mobility gives him even more power.
Later, Colin Ford takes over the role, playing the teenage Ricky. He endures another setback after tripping over a sprinkler and breaking his ankle. Against his father's wishes, he wills himself into rapid healing so he can attend a tryout hosted by legendary pitcher-turned-manager Red Murff (Scott Glenn), a figure who very much wants this kid to go away. James, meanwhile, struggles to get himself fully set up at a new church in an impoverished backwoods town.
Rickey Hill's journey to overcome his physical ailments and get into Minor League Baseball is inherently compelling. The Hill inexplicably chooses to depict it through a series of worn-out clichés, up to and including the disapproving dad who never comes to a single game, then shows up at the end, just in time for the Big Moment. The movie also gives us the dying relative who manages to deliver a coherent, rousing speech before keeling over and the childhood girlfriend who remains faithfully by Rickey’s side through adulthood. It’s highly doubtful that the real Rickey Hill’s life consisted of so many cinematic tropes.
Dialogue in the movie is wildly overwritten. These characters don’t talk like normal people do, they speak in platitudes, often dropping in Bible verses to make their points. Nothing is said simply when it can be expanded into a religious monologue instead. A faith-based film is, of course, expected to find people talking about God and Jesus. That’s fine. What happens here is different. The way Christian ideals are introduced is so forced that it never sounds natural or sincere. James, Rickey, and the others sound like they’re reciting memorized sermons, not speaking extemporaneously. The effect is unintentionally comical in spots.
The Hill additionally has an intrusive musical score that constantly reminds you of how uplifted you’re supposed to feel. Everything about this picture is cheesy to the Nth degree. The only true strengths are the performances from Quaid and Glenn, both of whom are dependably good. 2023 has given us several well-made Christian films, notably Jesus Revolution and Southern Gospel. They’re the ones to see for a touching faith message. The Hill is too treacly to get the job done.
out of four
The Hill is rated PG for thematic content, language, and smoking throughout. The running time is 2 hours and 6 minutes.